What specialists said about OASIS: HERALD survey findings #3

This is the third instalment in the findings from the HERALD survey on the redevelopment of the OASIS form. Only 17 respondents from of the total of 516 respondents defined themselves Specialist (post excavation analyses). And although the results set was small these were the conclusions drawn from it:

  1. Three quarters of the 17 respondents who defined themselves as post-excavation specialists responded as individuals and all work in England with about a quarter also working in Scotland and Wales. The organisations represented were of all sizes from one person to over 250 employees.

  1. 40% of respondents do not use OASIS but the rest use it for some of their projects at least. It was noted that although a respondent did not use it themselves others in their organisation did. The main motivations for completing the OASIS form was to add the report to the ADS Grey literature library, that it was part of their internal procedures or that they have been told to by the HER. Most respondents who knew when the OASIS form was completed said it was done after the report was complete.
  1. All except one respondent (87%) said that over three quarters reports were uploaded for their projects and the main reason for not uploading reports was client confidentiality. Respondents mostly make reports available by email or post but at least half also make them available online either on their own website or via the ADS Grey literature library. Three quarters of respondents think that the availability of grey literature online has positively affected their work.
  1. Standards: half of respondents refer to research frameworks and there was a wide mix of opinions on how OASIS has affected data standards. Only one respondent (12%) uses the FISH toolkit and almost 40% had never heard of it.
  1. Awareness of the functionality of the OASIS form and where the data is used was mixed and would appear to reflect that some respondents were heavier users of the form than others. None of the users exported records from OASIS but over 70% would like to be able to do bulk uploads of records into OASIS. The general feeling was that the interface was old and clunky but that main problem was the time it took for some HERs to validate, therefore blocking reports from getting into the public domain.
  1. Improvements to OASIS such as a building recording section, a specialist recording section, community archaeologist involvement and the recording of archive deposition with museums were all positively received.
    When asked if OASIS should have a section for recording specialist archaeological information responses included:

“It would be extremely useful to access the environmental results from the local area around the site we are working on to provide comparative material. Particularly where the results are not published elsewhere. The environmental work is generally not picked up by OASIS at the moment”

“This may well be useful where the report is a synthesised publication but the specialist data only exists as digital downloads on CD in report or where the PX funding is delaying the whole report but certain specialist areas have been completed and could be made available sooner.”

There was also interest in better recording of transfer of finds to a museum:

“Very helpful to know when it [the project archive] has gone to the museum, so researchers can get at the Finds they need. It can be years before project archive is deposited, especially where museums are closed/nearly full, so Commercial units hold the finds and no one knows they are there.”

  1. Recording of the presence of environmental data in OASIS records was welcomed in responses to the survey, the telephone interviews and other comments received.

“It would be great to be able to search for any reports with environmental work by phase and location”

  1. Communication: the OASIS email lists and the OASIS website were seen as the best means of keeping in touch with this user group.
  1. Training: the respondents who had received training and those who had not were roughly proportional with knowledge of the OASIS system shown in the survey answers. The favoured training materials were a downloadable manual followed by online videos and a helpdesk service.
  1. Respondents thought the best part of OASIS was the archiving and availability of grey literature, the worst things were the dated interface, slowness of data input and validation and most specifically for this survey the inability of OASIS to record if any environmental analysis was done on a project. Aside from improving the interface and HER interaction respondents were keen to see direct access to specialist reports and more recording of environmental analyses.
  1. There was a very low number of responses from non-users of the OASIS form (only 5, falling to 3 for the later questions) and the main reason for not using it was a lack of training or it not being relevant to their role. As with other survey groups the non-users of OASIS seemed also to be respondents with less technical knowledge but responses to questions asking if specialist archaeological reports should be included in OASIS were positively received.

“All pottery reports should be freely available to anyone who wants to see them – complete and unedited.”

“Just make the whole thing as simple as possible. Most of us haven’t got the faintest idea about the sorts of IT arcana that seem to be inseparable from these big projects. We want to be able to get the reports and data tables in easy to use formats without a lot of hassle and especially without being told that we are copyright thieves.”

The next instalment of the HERALD survey findings series will be on what historic building specialists say about OASIS…

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